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Wednesdays with Wade: Lillian Disney, the woman behind the man

Wade Sampson shares an article from a 1953 issue of McCalls, where Lillian looks back on the life that she shared with Walt Disney

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Since March is “Women’s History Month,” I thought I would use this column to spotlight the woman behind the legend, Lillian Disney. Lillian Disney, the widow of legendary animator and filmmaker Walt Disney, died peacefully in her sleep on Tuesday December 16th 1997. Lillian passed away at her home in West Los Angeles at the age of 98 following a stroke that she suffered early in the morning of December 15th. Ironically, Walt Disney died thirty-one years earlier, early in the morning of December 15, 1966.

She was born Lillian Bounds on an Indian Reservation in Spalding, Idaho on February 15, 1899 (for years she kept the year of her birth secret since she was almost two years older than Walt). As the tenth and last child of Jeanette Short Bounds and Willard Pehall Bounds, Lillian grew up in Lapwai, Idaho on the Nez Perce Indian Reservation. Her father worked for the government as a blacksmith and federal marshal.

She moved to Los Angeles in 1923 to join her older sister Hazel. A friend of her sister was working at the fledgling studio of Walt Disney, and told Lillian about a job opening there working for Walt Disney inking animation cels. Approximately two years later, Lillian and Walt were married on July 13, 1925 in Lewiston, Idaho by Reverend D.J.W. Somerville, Rector Protestant Episcopal Church of the Nativity with Hazel Sewell and Sydney Bounds as witnesses.

For the next 41 years, Lillian was content to quietly remain in the background, raise two daughters (Diane and Sharon), tend to her garden, play cards with her friends and constantly challenge almost every decision Walt made from producing an animated feature to creating the first theme park.

Following the death of Walt on December 15th 1966, Lillian became quite active in a variety of charitable programs, with primary emphasis toward the support of children and the arts. Mrs. Disney helped found the California Institute of the Arts, a school that has since produced many of the industry’s best animators including John Lasseter. She also operated a charitable foundation, donating to many causes, including a $100,000 gift to the Nez Perce Indians to help in the purchase of tribal artifacts in 1996.

In May 1987, Lillian made a landmark gift of $50 million to the Music Center of Los Angeles County to build a world-class concert hall for the city. The Walt Disney Concert Hall, opened in 2003 nearly six years after her death, is the permanent home to the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the fourth venue of the Music Center.

Lillian was credited as having named Mickey Mouse, when on a train ride with Walt from New York to Los Angeles. Following Walt’s death, Lillian remarried three years later to John Truyens, only to be widowed again in 1981 when she reverted back to using the “Disney” last name.

“We shared a wonderful, exciting life, and we loved every minute of it. He was a wonderful husband to me and a wonderful and joyful father and grandfather. I am distressed to learn of a new book about Walt that actually invents incidents that never happened,” said the normally shy Lillian on the publication of Marc Eliot’s error-ridden book, “Walt Disney: Hollywood’s Dark Prince.”

Lillian was survived by one daughter (Diane) as well as ten grandchildren and thirteen great grandchildren. There was no funeral service . Like Walt, she was cremated and her ashes were interred just below Walt’s in Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale.

On December 17, 1997, her nephew Roy E. Disney issued the following statement:

“This really is the end of an era for the Disneys, and it’s ironic and somehow fitting that it should be at this time of the year…Walt, in 1966, my dad in 1971, my mother in 1984, and now Lily have all gone during the 10 days before Christmas. She was a great lady, full of laughter and fun and always prepared to speak the truth, tough and loving at the same time. Once you knew her, you’d never forget her. I always thought of the four of them…Walt and Roy, Lily and Edna…as true pioneers…if life had required them to pull the wagon train across the country, they’d have done it…and done it better than anyone. I’m pretty sure that the four of them are together somewhere now, having a wonderful time.”

Here is an excerpt from “I Live With a Genius” by Mrs. Walt Disney (as told to Isabella Taves) from “McCalls” magazine from February 1953:

“My husband deals in myths. One of the myths which surrounds him, and which he takes great pains to perpetuate, is that he is Mickey Mouse at heart – shy, gullible, henpecked. Walt is always telling people how henpecked he is. Last summer, appearances seemed to support him when he took five women to Europe with him – me; our two daughters, Diane and Sharon; a school friend of Diane’s; and our niece. But it was all his own idea, and he loved it. I was the only one who had trouble. By the time we landed back on American soil, what with two months of counting noses and luggage, I was a wreck. A sharp young reporter asked me, “Aren’t you nervous, Mrs. Disney?” And I, who have made a career out of not talking to the press, fixed everything up fine by answering, ‘Who wouldn’t be, married to Walt Disney?’

I never expect to live down that remark. It is going to be one of those stories about poor Lilly (my maiden name was Lillian Bounds) that the whole family will tell and retell for years. So I must say, in protective explanation, that I wouldn’t have missed one minute of the twenty-seven years I have been married to Walt Disney. I’m proud of my husband and what he has done – but I’m even prouder that along the way, in bad times and good, he has never lost his sense of humor or his zest for life.

Being married to Walt Disney is never dull. There have been plenty of times when I felt as though I were attached to one of those flying saucers they talk about. Being female, I maintain that Walt’s imagination flies so high he naturally sees a little farther than the rest of us. But, although Walt has been right a number of times when we have been wrong, we don’t encourage him by admitting how smart he is to his face. We work on the premise that Walt may be a genius but any genius, especially Walt Disney, is wild-eyed and needs a practical family to watch over him.

I’m the original worry wart about Walt’s ideas. He always tries them out on me. Although I may not classify as Walt Disney’s best friend (a colorless thing for a wife to be, anyway) I am sure I can as his severest critic. I always look on the dark side. Maybe once in a while I have been right and have saved him from mistakes–but I also remember the time Walt was making his first full-length picture, ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.’ And I tried to stop him because I didn’t think people would go to see a picture about dwarfs!

When he decided to build a new house a few years ago, Walt began making plans to run the track for his miniature train all through the grounds. It is a wonderful hobby for him. He has built much of it himself, and it has been a fine diversion and safety valve for his nervous energy. As for me, an hour or two of backing and switching is all I can take at a time, even though Walt tried to console me by naming the locomotive ‘Lilly Belle’ after me.

However, I wasn’t being entirely selfish when I argued against having the railroad on our grounds. In the first place, although Walt adores the train now, I am not sure his enthusiasm will continue after he has done everything possible to it. And putting up miniature tracks entails a formidable outlay of money, because there has to be so much expensive grading. In the second place our girls are growing up. When they marry we may not need or want such a big house. And if we should ever decide to sell our house there won’t be many prospective buyers who’ll want a place with a yard full of railroad track.

So the girls and I, using our best female wiles, tried to persuade Father to keep his train at the studio, where he could play with it at noon and run it all over the lot to entertain visiting firemen. (Some of Walt’s guests are literally firemen, from the Santa Fe.) Walt said little. But one night, just as we were ready to okay final plans for the house, he brought home a formidable legal document. ‘Sign, or no house,’ he told us.

We almost fell out of our chairs. He had had his lawyer draw up a right-of-way contract for his railroad through the property, a contract exactly like those used by regular commercial lines. It had taken hours to do, and was so technical we couldn’t wade through it. Pretty soon all three Disney females caught on that they were beaten and might as well laugh about it. We were quite prepared to put our names on the dotted line, when Walt picked up the contract and said he’d trust us.

Actually I owe that train a debt of gratitude. Not too many years ago Walt came close to a nervous breakdown simply from overwork. No matter what plans I made for the weekend, we would always end up at the studio. He couldn’t get it out of his mind. And when he tried sports he worked so hard at them that he only got more tense. When we were first married he decided golf was the answer. Instead of playing it like a normal person he got up at 4:30 in the morning to get it out of the way before he had to be at the studio. He talked about the dew on the grass and the sunrise until I decided to take up golf with him. But we never went far. Walt would fly into such a rage when he missed a stroke that I got helplessly hysterical watching him.

Now Walt has something to interest him that doesn’t drive him crazy. He stays home weekends. Once in a while he even comes home early to run the train a while before dinner. He also loves to entertain visitors who are really interested in it. A certain select few who have shown true enthusiasm have been given cards signed by Walt designating them as vice-presidents of the road.

The story starts more than twenty seven-years ago, when I was a visitor in Hollywood from Lewiston, Idaho, and got a job working for Walt. He and Roy had a studio back of a real estate office and were making shorts called ‘Alice in Cartoonland.’ A girl friend of my sister was filling in celluloids (one of the processes of animation) and told me they needed someone else. I got the job at $15 a week.

At that time Walt and Roy weren’t allowing themselves much more, for nearly everything they made went into the pictures or to pay back money Walt borrowed to start the business. They lived together in a tiny walk-up apartment, with Roy doing the cooking. I’ve always teased Walt that the reason he asked me to marry him so soon after Roy married Edna Francis, a Kansas City girl, was that he needed somebody to fix his meals. But I have one comforting thought. Food isn’t that important to Walt.

Walt would get involved in working out some idea and forget to turn up until ten or eleven at night. Once, soon after we were married, Walt did the same thing to me. When it came dinnertime he wandered out of the studio to the corner beanery for a bowl of soup and then right back to the studio to continue with his idea. It wasn’t until far into the night that he woke up to the fact he had a bride at home who had cooked dinner and was waiting to throw it in his face when he turned up.

I quit work when we married. Walt loves all animals – he won’t even let the gardener and me put out traps for the little ones that are garden pests – but when he created Mickey Mouse there was no symbolism or background for the idea. He simply thought the mouse would make a cute character to animate.

Everybody helped Walt. Roy was Jack-of-all-trades, and Edna and I stopped being ladies of leisure and filled in celluloids. We worked night and day. We ate stews and pot roasts which luckily were cheap in those days. We were down so low that we had a major budget crisis one night when I tripped on the garage stairs and ruined my last pair of silk stockings. Then when we had finished three Mickeys we had an even worse blow. Nobody was interested in them because talkies had just come in and the theaters wanted shorts with sound.

One of the curious things about Walt is that he is more often recognized abroad than he is at home. In South America once they made such a fuss over him at a movie theater that I got separated from him. Crowds scare me a little, because I am only five feet tall. All I could think of to do was to follow the man in front of me. I was ready to follow him into the men’s room when the manager of the theater, alerted by Walt, saved me.

The first time Walt ever saw one of his cartoon shorts in a theater was two years later, just before we were married. My sister and I were visiting a friend that night, so Walt decided to go to the movies. A cartoon short by a competitor was advertised outside, but suddenly, as he sat in the darkened theater, his own picture came on. Walt was so excited he rushed down to the manager’s office. The manager, misunderstanding, began to apologize for not showing the advertised film. Walt hurried over to my sister’s house to break his exciting news, but we weren’t home yet. Then he tried to find Roy, but he was out too. Finally he went home alone. Every time we pass a theater where one of his films is advertised on the marquee I can’t help but think of that night.

Despite all the honors he has won and the fact he is an international figure, Walt is genuinely self-effacing. He likes to wander around almost anyplace the Farmer’s Market in Hollywood or the Third Avenue junk shops in New York, without being recognized. He has no use for people who throw their weight around as celebrities, or for those who fawn over you just because you are famous.

When our girls were little he made a point of not having Mickey Mouse toys around the house. The only ones they acquired were gifts from people outside the family. . Although he is one of the busiest men in Hollywood, he has never neglected his family for business. When the girls were young he would take as much time over a childish problem as he would over a studio crisis. I don’t think he has ever missed a swimming meet in which one of them took part, or a father-and-daughter dinner. He was simply beside himself with pride when Diane made her debut with a group of other girls and the fathers presented the girls. And I am flattered to say that, after twenty-seven years, he seems to want me around as much as when we were first married. He is actually hurt if I don’t go along with him on a business trip. And he spends as much time and thought on a present as though he were still courting me.

Some years ago I had been hounding him about a disreputable old hat he insisted on wearing. Walt has excellent taste in clothes, but he won’t take care of them. He ruins every suit he owns by coming through the kitchen when he gets home at night and filling his pockets with bologna and hot dogs for our nine-year-old French poodle, Dee-Dee. What he does with his hats I don’t know, but something equally gruesome.

Finally the disreputable hat vanished. I didn’t ask where – I was too pleased. But it turned up again on my birthday. Walt had had it copper-plated, the process they use on baby shoes to preserve them – and then filled it with brown orchids. It hangs in our projection room, and I feel very sentimental about it.

He works hard. He has high standards of taste, and he will never compromise. But applause goes in one ear and out the other. Past triumphs bore him; he is always too busy with future schemes. Right now he is planning a Disney television show, on which he will be his own master of ceremonies. He is working on a Disneyland amusement park to be built somewhere near Hollywood, with rides and displays and even live animals. And he is tossing around in his mind half a dozen ideas for feature-length cartoon pictures. These, of course, are always the greatest gambles, for each one takes years to make and involves millions of dollars.

I have a hunch that the reason Walt fails so rarely is that he isn’t afraid to take chances. If the worst possible should happen Walt could start all over again making pictures in a garage. I’m sure he wouldn’t waste time complaining. He might even get a kick out of it.”

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Jens Dahlmann of LongHorn Steakhouse has lots of great tips when it comes to grilling

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Sure, for some folks, the Fourth of July is all about fireworks. But for the 75% of all Americans who own a grill or a smoker, the Fourth is our Nation’s No. 1 holiday when it comes to grilling. Which is why 3 out of 4 of those folks will spend some time outside today working over a fire.

But here’s the thing: Though 14 million Americans can cook a steak with confidence because they actually grill something every week, the rest of us – because we use our grill or smoker so infrequently … Well, let’s just say that we have no chops when it comes to dealing with chops (pork, veal or otherwise).

So what’s a backyard chef supposed to in a situation like this when there’s so much at steak … er … stake? Turn to someone who really knows their way around a grill for advice. People like Jens Dahlmann, the Vice President and Corporate Executive Chef for Darden Restaurant’s LongHorn Steakhouse brand.

Given that Jens’ father & grandfather were chefs, this is a guy who literally grew up in a kitchen. In his teens & twenties, Dahlmann worked in hotels & restaurants all over Switzerland & Germany. Once he was classically trained in the culinary arts, Jens then  jumped ship. Well, started working on cruise ships, I mean.

Anyway … While working on Cunard’s Sea Goddess, Dahlmann met Sirio Maccioni, the founder of Le Cirque 2000. Sirio was so impressed with Jens’ skills in the kitchen that he offered him the opportunity to become sous-chef at this New York landmark. After four years of working in Manhattan, Dahlmann then headed south to become executive chef at Palm Beach’s prestigious Café L’Europe.

Jens Dahlmann back during his Disney World days

And once Jens began wowing foodies in Florida, it wasn’t all that long ’til the Mouse came a-calling. Mickey wanted Dahlmann to shake things up in the kitchen over at WDW’s Flying Fish Café. And he did such a good job with that Disney’s Boardwalk eatery the next thing Jens knew, he was then being asked to work his magic with the menu at the Contemporary Resort’s California Grill.

From there, Dahlmann had a relatively meteoric rise at the Mouse House. Once he became Epcot’s Food & Beverage general manager, it was only a matter of time before he wound up as the executive chef in charge of this theme park’s annual International Food & Wine Festival. Which – under Jens’ guidance – experienced some truly explosive growth.

“When I took on Food & Wine, that festival was only 35 days long and had gross revenues of just $5.5 million. When I left Disney in 2016, Food & Wine was now over 50 days long and that festival had gross revenues of $22 million,” Dahlmann admitted during a recent sit-down. “I honestly loved those 13 years I spent at Disney. When I was working there, I learned so much because I was really cooking for America.”

And it was exactly that sort of experience & expertise that Darden wanted to tap into when they lured Jens away from Mickey last year to become LongHorn Steakhouse’s new Vice President and Corporate Executive Chef. But today … Well, Dahlmann is offering tips to those of us who are thinking about cooking steak tips for the Fourth.

Photo by Jim Hill

“When you’re planning on grilling this holiday, if you’re looking for a successful result, the obvious place to start is with the quality of the meat you plan on cooking for your friends & family. If you want the best results here, don’t be cheap when you go shopping. Spend the money necessary for a fresh filet or a New York strip. Better yet a Ribeye, a nice thick one with good marbling. Because when you look at the marbling on a steak, that’s where all the flavor happens,” Jens explained. “That said, you always have to remember that — the higher you go with the quality of your meat — the less time you’re going to want that piece of meat to spend on the grill.”

And speaking of cooking … Before you even get started here, Jens suggests that you first take the time to check over all of your grilling equipment. Making sure that the grill itself is first scraped clean & then properly oiled before you then turn up the heat.

“If you’re working with a dirty grill, when you go to turn your meat, it may wind up sticking to the grill. Or maybe those spices that you’ve just so carefully coated your steak with will wind up sticking to the grill, rather than your meat,” Dahlmann continued. “Which is why it’s always worth it to spend a few minutes prior to firing up your grill properly cleaning & oiling it.”

Photo by Jim Hill

And speaking of heat … Again, before you officially get started grilling here, Jens says that it’s crucial to check your temperature gauges. Make sure that your char grill is set at 550 (so that it can then properly handle the thicker cuts of meat) and your flattop is set at 425 (so it can properly sear thinner pieces of meat).

Okay. Once you’ve bought the right cuts of quality meat, properly cleaned & oiled your grill, and then made sure that everything’s set at the right temperature (“If you can only stand to hold your hand directly over the grill for two or three seconds, that’s the right amount of heat,” Dahlmann said), it’s now time to season your steaks.

“Don’t be afraid to be bold here. You can’t be shy when it comes to seasoning your meat. You want to give it a nice coating. Largely because — if you’re using a char grill — a lot of that seasoning is just going to fall off anyway,” Jens stated. “It’s up to you to decide what sort of seasoning you want to use here. Even just some salt & pepper will enhance a steak’s flavor.”

Then – according to Dahlmann – comes the really tough part. Which is placing your meat on the grill and then fighting the urge to flip it too early or too often.

“The biggest mistake that a lot of amateur cooks make is that they flip the steak too many times. The real key to a well-cooked piece of meat is just let it be, “Jens insisted. “Of course, if you’re serving different cuts of meat at your Fourth of July feast, you always want to put your biggest thickest steak on the grill first. If you’re also cooking a New York Strip, you want to put that one on a few minutes later. But after that, just let the grill do its job and flip your meat a total of three or four times, once every three minutes or so.”

Of course, the last thing you want to do is overcook a quality piece of meat. Which is why Dahlmann suggests that – when it comes to grilling steaks – if you’re going to err, err on the side of undercooking.

“You can always put a piece of meat back on the grill if it’s slightly undercooked. When you over-cook something, all you can do then is start over with a brand-new piece of meat,” Jens said. “Just be sure that you’re using the correct cut of meat for the cooking result you’re aiming for. If someone wants a rare or medium rare steak, you should go with a thicker cut of steak. If one of your guests wants their steak cooked medium or well, it’s best to start with a thinner cut of meat.”

Photo by Jim Hill

As you can see, the folks at Longhorn take grilling steaks seriously. How seriously? Just last week at Darden Corporate Headquarters in Orlando, seven of these brand’s top grill masters (who – after weeks of regional competitions – had been culled from the 491 restaurants that make up this chain) competed for a $10,000 prize in the Company’s second annual Steak Master Series. And Dahlmann was one of the people who stood in Darden’s test kitchens, watching like a hawk as each of the contestants struggled to prepare six different dishes in just 20 minutes according to Longhorn Steakhouse’s exacting standards.

“I love that Darden does this. Recognizing the best of the best who work this restaurant,” Jens concluded. “We have a lot of people here who are incredibly knowledgeable & passionate when it comes to grilling.”

Speaking of which … If today’s story doesn’t include the exact piece of info that you need to properly grill that T-bone, just whip out your iPhone & text GRILL to 55702. Or – better yet – visit  ExpertGriller.com prior to firing up your grill or smoker later today. 

This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Tuesday, July 4, 2017

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Brattleboro’s Strolling of the Heifers is a sincere if somewhat surreal way to spend a summer’s day in Vermont

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Some people travel halfway ‘around the planet so that they can then experience the excitement of the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona. If you’re more of a Slow Living enthusiast (as I am), then perhaps you should amble to Brattleboro, VT. Where – over the first weekend in June – you can then join a herd of cow enthusiasts at the annual Strolling of the Heifers.

Now in its 16th year, this three-day long event typically gets underway on Friday night in June with a combination block party / gallery walk. But then – come Saturday morning – Main Street in Brattleboro is lined with thousands of bovine fans.

Photo by Jim Hill

They’ve staked out primo viewing spots and set up camp chairs hours ahead of time. Just so these folks can then have a front row seat as this year’s crop of calves (which all come from local farms & 4-H clubs) are paraded through the streets.

Photo by Jim Hill

Viewed from curbside, Strolling of the Heifers is kind of this weird melding of a sincere small town celebration and Pasadena’s Doo Dah Parade. Meaning that – for every entry that actually acknowledged this year’s theme (i.e. “Dance to the Moosic”) — …

Photo by Jim Hill

… there was something completely random, like this parade’s synchronized shopping cart unit.

Photo by Jim Hill

And for every piece of authentic Americana (EX: That collection of antique John Deere tractors that came chugging through the city) …

Photo by Jim Hill

… there was something silly. Like – say – a woman dressed as a Holstein pushing a baby stroller through the streets. And riding in that stroller was a pig dressed in a tutu.

Photo by Jim Hill

And given that this event was being staged in the Green Mountain State & all … Well, does it really surprise you to learn that — among the groups that marched in this year’s Strolling of the Heifers – was a group of eco-friendly folks who, with their  chants of “We’re Number One !,” tried to persuade people along the parade route not to flush the toilet after they pee. Because – as it turns out – urine can be turned into fertilizer.

Photo by Jim Hill

And speaking of fertilizer … At the tail end of the parade, there was a group of dedicated volunteers who were dealing with what came out of the tail end of all those cows.

Photo by Jim Hill

This year’s Strolling of the Heifers concluded at the Brattleboro town common. Where event attendees could then get a closer look at some of the featured units in this year’s parade…

Photo by Jim Hill

… or perhaps even pet a few of the participants.

Photo by Jim Hill

But as for the 90+ calves who took part in the 2017 edition of Strolling of the Heifers, once they reached the town common, it was now time for a nosh or a nap.

Photo by Jim Hill

Elsewhere on the common, keeping with this year’s “Dance to the Moosic” theme, various musical groups performed in & around the gazebo throughout the afternoon.

Photo by Jim Hill

While just across the way – keeping with Brattleboro’s tradition of showcasing the various artisans who live & work in the local community – some pretty funky pieces were on display at the Slow Living Exposition.

Photo by Jim Hill

All in all, attending Strolling of the Heifers is a somewhat surreal but still very pleasant way to spend a summer’s day in Vermont. And that’s no bull.

Photo by Jim Hill

Well, that could be a bull. To be honest, what with the wig & all, it’s kind of hard to tell. 

This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Sunday, June 4, 2017

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Looking to make an authentic Irish meal for Saint Patrick’s Day? If so, then chef Kevin Dundon says not to cook corned beef & cabbage

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Let’s at least start on a positive note: Celebrated chef, author & TV personality Kevin Dundon – the man that Tourism Ireland has repeatedly chosen as the Face of Irish Food – loves a lot of what happens in the United States on March 17th.

“I mean, look at what they do in Chicago on Saint Patrick’s Day. They toss all of this vegetable-based dye into the Chicago River and then paint it green for a day. That’s terrific,” Kevin said.

But then when it comes to what many Americans eat & drink on St. Paddy’s Day (i.e., a big plate of corned beef and cabbage. Which is then washed down with a mug of green beer) … Well, that’s where Dundon has to draw the line.

Irish celebrity chef Kevin Dundon displays a traditional Irish loin of bacon with Colcannon potatoes and a Dunbrody Kiss chocolate dessert. Photo by Tom Burton. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

“Green beer? No real Irishman would be caught dead drinking that stuff,” Kevin insists. “And as for eating corned beef & cabbage … That’s not actually authentic Irish fare either. Bacon and cabbage? Sure. But corned beef & cabbage was something that the Irish only began eating after they’d come to the States to escape the Famine. And even then these Irish-Americans only began serving corned beef & cabbage to their friends & family because they had to make do with the ingredients that were available to them at that time.”

And thus begins the strange tale of how corned beef & cabbage came to be associated with the North American celebration of Saint Patrick’s Day celebration. Because – according to Dundon – beef just wasn’t all that big a part of the Irish diet back in the 19th century.

To explain: Back in the Old Country, cattle – while they were obviously highly prized for the milk & cheese that they produced – were also beasts of burden. Meaning that they were often used for ploughing the fields or for hauling heavy loads. Which is why – back then — these animals were rarely slaughtered when they were still young & healthy. If anything, land owners liked to put a herd of cattle on display out in one of their pastures because that was then a sign to their neighbors that this farm was prosperous.

“Whereas pork … Well, everybody raised pigs back then. Which is why pork was a staple of the Irish diet rather than beef,” Dundon continued.

So if that’s what people actually ate back in the Old Country, how then did corned beef & cabbage come to be so strongly associated with Saint Patrick’s Day in the States.? That largely had to do with where the Irish wound up living after they arrived in the New World.

“When the Irish first arrived in America following the Great Famine, a lot of them wound up living in the inner city right alongside the Germans & the Jews, who were also recent immigrants to the States. And while that farm-fresh pork that the Irish loved wasn’t readily available, there was brisket. Which the Irish could then cure by first covering this piece of meat with corn kernel-sized pieces of rock salt – that’s how it came to be called corned beef. Because of the sizes of the pieces of rock salt that were used in the curing process – and then placing all that in a pot of water with other spices to soak for a few days.”

And as for the cabbage portion of corned beef & cabbage … Well, according to Kevin, in addition to buying their meat from the kosher delis in their neighborhood, the Irish would also frequent the stores that the German community shopped in. Where – thanks to their love of sauerkraut (i.e., pickled cabbage) – there was always a ready supply of cabbage to be had.

“So when you get right down to it, it was the American melting pot that led to corned beef & cabbage being found in the Irish-American cooking pot,” Dundon continued. “Since they couldn’t find or didn’t have easy access to the exact same ingredients that they had back in Ireland, Irish-Americans made do with what they could find in the immediate vicinity. And what they made was admittedly tasty. But it’s not actually authentic Irish fare.”

Mind you, what Kevin serves at Raglan Road Irish Pub and Restaurant at Disney Springs (which – FYI – Orlando Magazine voted as the area’s best restaurant back in 2014) is nothing if not authentic. Dundon and his team at this acclaimed gastropub pride themselves on making traditional Irish fare and then contemporized it.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

“Take – for example – what we serve here instead of corned beef & cabbage. Again, because it was pork – rather than beef – that was the true staple of the Irish diet back then, what we offer instead is a loin of bacon that has been glazed with Irish Mist. That then comes with colcannon potatoes. Which is this traditional Irish dish that’s made up of mashed potato that have had some cabbage & bacon mixed through it,” Kevin enthused. “This heavenly ham – that’s what we actually call this traditional Irish dish at Raglan Road, Kevin’s Heavenly Ham – also includes some savory cabbage with a parsley cream sauce as well as a raisin cider jus. It’s simple food. But because of the basic ingredients – and that’s the real secret of Irish cuisine. That our ingredients are so strong – the flavors just pop off the plate.”

Which brings us to the real challenge that Dundon and the Raglan Road team face every day. Making sure that they actually have all of the ingredients necessary to make this traditional-yet-contemporized Irish fare to those folks who frequent this Walt Disney World favorite.

“Take – for example – the fish we serve here. We only used cold water fish. Salmon, mussels and haddock that have been hauled out of the Atlantic, the ocean that America and Ireland share,” Kevin stated. “Not that there’s anything wrong with warm water fish. It’s just that … Well, it doesn’t have the same structure. It’s a softer fish, which doesn’t really fit the parameters of Irish cuisine. And if you’re going to serve authentic food, you have to be this dedicated when it comes to sourcing your ingredients.

Copyright Mitchell Beazley. All rights reserved

And if you’re thinking of perhaps trying to serve an authentic Irish meal this year, rather than once again serving corned beef & cabbage at your Saint Patrick’s Day Feast … Well, back in September of last year, Mitchell Beazley published “The Raglan Road Cookbook: Inside America’s Favorite Irish Pub.” This 296-page hardcover not only includes the recipe for Kevin’s Heavenly Ham but also it tells the tale of how this now-world-renown restaurant wound up being built in Orlando.

On the other hand, if you happen to have to the luck of the Irish and are actually down at The Walt Disney World Resort right now, it’s worth noting that Raglan Road is right in the middle of its Mighty St. Patrick’s Day Festival. This four day-long event – which includes Irish bands and professional dancers – stretches through Sunday night. And in addition to all that authentic Irish fare that Dundon and his team are cooking up, you also sample the fine selection of beers & cocktails that this establishment’s four distinct antique bars (each of which are more than 130 years old and were imported directly from Ireland) will be serving. Just – As ucht Dé (That’s “For God’s Sake” in Gaelic) – don’t make the mistake of asking the bartender there for a mug of green beer.

“Why would anyone willingly drink something like that?,” Dundon laughed. “I mean, just imagine what their washroom will look like the morning after.”

This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Friday, March 17, 2017

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